Marcus Sakey has worked as a landscaper, a theatrical carpenter, a 3D animator, a woefully unprepared movie reviewer, a tutor, and a graphic designer who couldn’t draw. In 2007 his first novel, The Blade Itself, was published to wide critical acclaim, and thank god, because nothing else seemed to be working. His books, which inlcude The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes, The Amateurs, Good People, Accelerant (At The City’s Edge), and Scar Tissue, have been nominated for more than a dozen awards. His fiction is sold worldwide. His latest novel, A Better World, was published by Thomas & Mercer in June 2014.
Pre-publication, Brilliance was optioned for film by Legendary Pictures in a seven-figure deal, with Spider-Man scribe David Koepp attached to adapt. His novel Good People is currently shooting in London; the film, which stars James Franco, Kate Hudson, and Tom Wilkinson is directed by Academy Award-nominated Henrik Genz. Several of his other books have also been optioned for film.
Marcus is the host and writer of the acclaimed television show Hidden City on Travel Channel, for which he is routinely pepper-sprayed and attacked by dogs. He has rappelled with SWAT teams, pub crawled with bank robbers, dissected a human brain, dived for pirate treasure, and learned to pick a deadbolt. He claims it was all for research. He loves travelling, especially if he might hurt himself. He is an excellent cook and a spice junkie. He enjoys writing about himself in the third person.
Marcus’s two newest novels, Brilliance, and A Better World have met with wide acclaim, and he kindly answered a few of my questions about the series!
Marcus Sakey: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed.
The genesis was the idea of the brilliants. I’m fascinated by savants, people who can reproduce a city skyline after a momentary glance, or play with virtuoso skill an instrument they’ve never touched. In real life, of course, most of them have terrible challenges as well. But I got to thinking: what if it was just an attribute, like hair color or height? And what if it became commonplace, say 1% of everyone born since 1980? How would the world change?
As a society, we don’t do well with the exceptional; anything different tends to trigger some level of xenophobia. And the brilliants aren’t just considered better—they are better. They’re objectively superior to the rest of us.
Of course, we outnumber them 99 to 1. Which is where the trouble comes in…
KC: What kind of research have you done for the series?
MS: I started out researching real-life savants, but very quickly decided that I wanted to use them as a jumping off place instead. One of the central elements of the brilliants is that they are just people—they are not more intelligent or more advanced, they just each have this individualized gift, this weird thing they can do as natural as breathing.
Most of the research I’ve done for my books is actually more about the other end—the adventure side, and the aspects of life outside of the norm. I’ve trained with snipers, gone pub-crawling with bank robbers, dived for pirate treasure in the Keys, been attacked by police dogs, visited the morgue and held a human brain, and even been pepper sprayed for television. (Seriously: check it out )
That kind of research is invaluable in getting the details right. It’s also a lot of fun.
KC: What made you decide to set the series in a present day alternate history instead of the near or far-future?
MS: I wanted to underline that the brilliants themselves are the change. If I set it in the future, it becomes about the future. This way, hopefully it forces the reader to consider how own our world would react to a situation like this.
KC: Nick Cooper is a bit of a tortured hero, very complex, and he wrestles constantly with the decisions he must make. Shannon, too, must make difficult decisions for what she feels is right. What are a few of your favorite literary heroes, or heroines, and what do you think makes them great?
MS: I like characters that feel like people, possessed of both moments of grace and festering sores. And if they can do it with a little swagger, all the better.
The first hero of my life was Han Solo, and he remains a powerful mythic force to me, the rogue, the chaotic-good trickster who both thinks and shoots fast, and hates more than anything the forces that want to organize and limit his life. The recent extension of that is Malcolm Reynolds, from Joss Whedon’s Firefly, and he’s a brilliant reconceptualization of the same role.
“It’s getting awfully crowded in my sky…”
KC: The Edgar nomination for Brilliance was very exciting, and of course the recent film news is pretty awesome! What’s coming up next for you?
MS: Thanks! I was floored by the Edgar nom—it’s an honor under any circumstances, but given that Brilliance isn’t a traditional mystery, it was all the more flattering. And the film keeps getting more exciting —- I read the latest draft from David Koepp (Spider Man, Jurassic Park, Panic Room) and it’s just stunning.
Happily, next up is book three in the Brilliance saga. The intention was always to make this a trilogy, so I’m hoping to be able to wrap everything up in this next book. I’ve got it planned out and recently started writing, and there are already some surprises I think will blow readers’ minds…